Title: Lies We Tell Ourselves
Author: Robin Talley
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.
This was a difficult book to read – although I suppose that’s practically a given when you’re reading a book about two budding lesbians separated by race during the violent desegregation of public schools in the South in the 1960s. Any decent book about this time period is going to hurt to read, and this book was much, much more than “decent” – and the fact that it was such a beautiful book was what kept me reading even when I wanted to throw it across the room and start over in a world that truly didn’t see color and accepted all love.
The beginning of this book starts off in a bad place – it’s the first day of desegregation, neither girls are comfortable with their confusing feelings of sexuality, and Linda, the white daughter of one of the biggest opponents against desegregation, completely believes in everything that her father and his peers are spouting out at everyone who can hear them. Sarah is one of the few black students trying to integrate, and we have to see the shocking actions of most of the white people in their town through her eyes, which is terrifying and disgusting and would make it difficult to continue if I wasn’t already invested in the characters.
Desegregation and understanding what to believe and how to stand up for yourselves are very important themes in this book. It’s just as much about the personal journeys of Sarah and Linda as it is the journey for racial equality, a journey that feels even more relevant during modern times that can seem too similar to the 1960s all too often.
This is very much Sarah and Linda’s story, so I often felt like I didn’t connect with other characters as much as I would have liked. There was so much personal drama going on in each girl’s life, though, that I didn’t have a lot of time to think that while reading – it’s only as I’m talking about the characters now that I feel I could have gotten so much more about them. Sarah and Linda are complex characters, though, and they make up for it. Neither girl is perfect, and it can be difficult being in their minds – hearing Linda talk about how black people are inferior for her and that’s it’s just for their own good that they be separate, or Sarah hating herself because the way she feels about Linda is so sinful and wrong. It’s their personal journeys that kept me reading and turning the pages, though.
This book has loads of diversity – and I want more of it (in other books, I mean – this book is doing fine in the diversity category)! One narrator is African American and both are lesbians, no matter how much they struggle with accepting that (and boy do they struggle). Due to the time period and the fact that teenage years are already difficult without issues of sexuality and race, the book is very much about their attempts to deal with all the struggles they’re going through while trying to figure out who they are, which is wonderful to read about even though it can be very difficult.
The Adult Situation
As I already said, since we don’t learn quite as much about the secondary characters as I’d like, I didn’t always have a full grasp of the two sets of parents. They’re big forces in each girl’s lives, but they were as big to us as readers. The characters who really caught my attention were all the teachers at their school – many of whom I wanted to yell at and hit for what they let their students get away with.
Since sexuality is a big part of the story, the romance is obviously big as well. I supported the romance, but as I’m thinking about it now, I wonder if I was mainly rooting for them because I wanted them to accept themselves or because I really wanted them together.
It took me a while to read this book. I enjoyed it the whole way through, but I was in a reading slump throughout most of it. The main reason I never completely stopped reading this book is because I really was enjoying it, difficult subjects and all. I read the last half or so in about two days, which might not sound like a lot, but it took me about three or four weeks to read the first half due to the irritating slump, so it felt like it went by very quickly. I was stressed out by everything happening, which probably isn’t a good thing for me, but it felt like a fairly good kind of anxiety, one that meant I really cared about the characters and the book.
So, basically, this book was awesome. I don’t think I can all it a new favorite because I’m not as likely to reread difficult books like this, but I am so glad that I read it and I can’t wait to see what Robin Talley writes next.